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AHDB Pork Country Reports

22 November 2012

BPEX / AHDB Country Report - ChinaBPEX / AHDB Country Report - China

Pig meat is a staple part of the Chinese diet and the size of its population means that it is by far the largest producer and consumer of pig meat in the world. Indeed, it accounts for close to half of global production and consumption of pig meat.
BPEX / AHDB Country Reports

It is largely self-sufficient but the scale of the market means that it is still a very significant importer of pig meat, particularly in years when domestic production declines, as happened in 2011. Shortages of domestic pig meat can lead to very sharp price rises which have a major influence on overall consumer price inflation. This means that the Chinese government often takes active measures to manage the market, including encouraging imports to mitigate supply shortages.

Pig Numbers

According to figures from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, in June China’s pig breeding herd totalled 49.3 million head. This was around four per cent higher than in June 2011 as high prices during last year encouraged producers to expand. However, the breeding herd has been broadly stable since the start of 2012 as prices have fallen back, limiting any further expansion. These figures pre-date the sharp rise in feed prices seen since mid-June 2012 and past experience suggests that these could lead to a fall in the Chinese breeding herd during the rest of the year.

Overall pig numbers in China in June 2012 were around 458 million head, slightly higher than a year earlier but numbers have fallen since the start of the year. This fall is partly due to the impact of disease problems during the winter, although these have not been as bad as in some previous years.


Chinese pork production in 2012 has recovered from the low levels recorded during 2011 given the herd rebuilding. Last year’s production was limited by disease outbreaks during 2010 and early 2011, which caused higher mortality and lower growth rates. This was exacerbated by many small producers quitting the industry in response to low pig prices in 2009 and 2010.

Latest estimates are that slaughterings in 2012 will total 688 million head, more than 25 million up on the previous year. Pig meat production is expected to reach 51.4 million tonnes, around 2 million more than in 2011, although slightly lower than previous estimates as heavy flooding in some key provinces has delayed feed delivery and caused producers to slaughter animals earlier than expected and at lower weights. With prices at a low level over the summer, the period of lowest pork consumption, the Chinese government has been buying pork from the domestic market for state reserves to help support prices and prevent any future shortages.


Over the past few years, Chinese imports of fresh and frozen pork have risen significantly and 272,700 tonnes entered the Chinese market in the first half of this year, more than double the amount in the same period last year. The US is the largest contributor to these supplies and its shipments also doubled, helped by price competitiveness due to the weak dollar. Nevertheless, volumes were lower than in the second half of 2011, when imports totalled 340,000 tonnes, as higher domestic production limited the demand for imports.

Source: China Customs, GTIS

Shipments from the EU rose even more quickly than average as more Member States were approved for export and price competitiveness improved due to the weakening euro. Spain became the second largest supplier to China as shipments nearly trebled, with increased production and reducing domestic demand leaving more pork available to ship elsewhere. Weak consumer demand at home also contributed to a rapid rise in German shipments but Denmark recorded slower growth.

Chinese offal imports were also higher than in the previous year, albeit by only 10 per cent. Over half came from the US but its shipments were little changed. Denmark was the main EU supplier but Germany and Spain again experienced rapid growth in exports.

Over the years, China has sought to expand its pig industry and improve efficiency, resulting in increasing imports of live breeding pigs. Total imports in the first half of this year were nearly double those of last year, with the US again the main supplier.


During 2011, Chinese pig prices rose to record levels as pigs were in short supply, partly due to disease problems during the previous winter. Poor profitability during 2010 also led to many producers leaving the industry, reducing the supplies reaching the market during 2011. The high prices encouraged producers to expand, aided by some government subsidies, ensuring that supplies increased and, in response, prices fell back.

Although they were still high in the early part of 2012, by the spring prices had fallen back to between RMB14 and RMB15 (£1.40 to £1.50) per kg liveweight and have since stabilised at the lower end of this range. By June, the average price was nearly 20 per cent lower than a year earlier. During August, prices have reportedly begun to rise slightly, partly in response to the Chinese government increasing pork reserves to stabilise the price.

Piglet prices have also fallen back from the peak levels recorded in the second half of last year. However, since the start of the year, the price has been relatively stable at a little over RMB30 (£3) per kg. This is a high price by historic standards, although well below the peak of over RMB37 seen in September 2011.

China Retail Pig Price

Source: USDA


As indicated above, Chinese production in 2012 is set to recover the ground lost in 2011, despite some recurrence of disease problems during the winter. Carcase weights are set to be slightly lower, partly due to early marketing following floods in key pig producing regions during July and August. With higher supplies and lower prices, pig meat consumption is forecast to rise by four per cent, implying a slightly higher import requirement than in 2011.

Looking ahead to 2013, the stable breeding herd since the start of the year suggests that the number of pigs available will be similar to this year. Higher feed prices might hit profitability, particularly for small producers, leading to some fall in the breeding herd during the remainder of 2012 and early 2013, which could offset further rises in productivity. This might mean that 2013 slaughterings will be little changed from 2012 levels. However, the impact of feed prices is not easy to predict and a fall in throughputs in the second half of 2013 is possible. The upward trend in carcase weights is likely to resume, after stalling in 2012, leading to a small increase in pig meat production.

The increase in consumption is set to continue but at a slower rate than in recent years, given some slow down of economic growth. Rising consumption could be constrained further if high feed prices prompt a fall in production, leading to higher prices, although this may depend on the relative price of broiler meat, the main alternative protein. This probably means that Chinese pork imports will be similar to 2012 levels, although some increase is possible later in the year.

Chinese Pig Meat Production and Consumption Forecasts

October 2012

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